updated 5/28/2004 9:21:23 AM ET 2004-05-28T13:21:23

Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu warned Friday of looming "grave threats" in demonstrations during the visit to Rome of U.S. President Bush next week.

Pisanu did not say the president himself was threatened. He was referring to a threat to public order and not to any possible terror attack, an Interior Ministry official said on customary condition of anonymity.

Bush will be in Italy June 4-5; on June 2, Italy marks Republic Day. Both occasions are expected to draw thousands of demonstrators protesting both the war in Iraq and the occupation, as well as the Italian government's staunch support for the U.S. administration.

"Naturally, we do not undervalue any threat," Pisanu said. "Grave threats are looming, which concern us, but don't frighten us" at both events.

He declared that Italy was ready to deal with these threats. He insisted that Italians have "the right to demonstrate their opinions peacefully and without weapons" while others have "the right to go about their daily lives."

Pisanu, as interior minister, is political chief of state police and intelligence services. He made the comments in a speech in northern Italy at a rally of Premier Silvio Berlusconi's conservative Forza Italia party.

Bush's visit raises tensions
Bush's visit is raising tensions in Italy, with anti-war activists promising actions to disrupt the visit and security officials readying tight measures to protect the president, including the deployment of some 10,000 police forces.

A demonstration expected to draw thousands of people is scheduled for June 4, and security officials fear it might turn violent, although the route of the march isn't expected to allow participants to get near Bush.

In the past, some large demonstrations in Italy have turned violent, notably those outside a 2001 Group of Eight summit in Genoa. A small group of violent protesters rioted there, and authorities shot dead a 23-year-old man.

Bush is scheduled to meet with Pope John Paul II and with Berlusconi during his 26-hour visit. During the trip, Bush will join Italians in marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Italian capital by Allied forces during World War II.

Pisanu will lead a meeting Monday of the National Committee for Public Order and Security to analyze the security situation for next week.

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